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Loving the Locals

Guest Article by Janel Atlas

When freelancing seemed like an impossible fantasy and before I had any published articles to my credit, I would drift off to sleep every night with visions of Woman's Day, Parenting, and Smithsonian covers floating before my eyes. After all, those are the real magazines, the ones you can buy at any drugstore or supermarket. 

Free Doesn't Always Mean No Pay

One day, in the foyer of my local library, I saw a stack of

Delmarva Quarterly magazines. The sign above them read, "Take one; it's free!" I assumed that, because the publication was complimentary, it wasn't a paying market. But I was wrong. When I picked up a copy to investigate, I saw these marvelous words: "Submissions, letters, and advertising welcome. We pay for all items published." 

I read the magazine from cover to cover. The editor seemed to publish a variety of articles ranging from 750 words to upwards of 2,000. Each article was accompanied by several good quality photographs, and the content directly related to the places and people of the region. When I got home, I fired off an e-mail suggesting a short article about a little-known local history museum. Then I got back to working on queries for the "real" magazines. 

The editor of the Delmarva Quarterly e-mailed me back within a day to say that he was interested in the story and that he wanted me to provide photos. I read the e-mail through, then through again, and did a dance right there in front of my computer. 

I set up an interview with the museum's curator, toured the museum, and wrote the article. It was published two months later, and I got a $200 dollar check in the mail with my contributor's copy. Since breaking in, the editor has published four of my articles in the last three issues, and my pay from this magazine alone is over $1,000. That's nothing to scoff at!

Finding Local Magazines

The moral of the story? Whether you're a newbie or an experienced freelancer, don't ignore local publications. Some places to look for local magazines: 

  • libraries

  • doctor's offices

  • drugstores and grocery stores

  • local bookstores

Publications right in your own city, county or region may offer great opportunities. But you may feel like you don't know much about the area--I had only lived on Delmarva for two months when I broke in to the Quarterly. Here are some leads to help you get started:

Have you heard any legends about a local place? For example, a tavern in my town was reputedly visited by Edgar Allen Poe, who sloshed into a cold puddle of slush while getting out of his carriage. Legend has it that he put a curse on the town. I bet people in my area, whether they've heard the story or not, would be entertained by the story, as well as interested to learn whether historians give the story any credence.

Is there an athlete or musician who is from your area but ready to move on to the big leagues, either figuratively or literally? What about an piece on a homegrown talent before he or she becomes so big that you'll never have a chance at an interview?

Where did the name of your town come from? Who were its first settlers? Why did they choose that location to settle? People love history, especially if you can tie the subject to the present.

Look around at the concerns in your community. For example, some of my town's streams are being polluted. Why should people care? Maybe readers don't even know about the problem, and I could write a public service piece about the issue, interviewing a local ecologist.

So while you're shooting for the huge circulation magazines, don't forget about gems right in your own backyard. Now that I'm finished writing this, I'm going to call our local town historian to ask about that Poe curse.

About the Author

Janel Atlas is a freelance writer living in northern Delaware with her husband and daughter. Janel has had more than 100 articles published in regional and national magazines; her stories have appeared on Babyzone.com, Reading Today, Delaware Parent, Byline Magazine, The Wilmington News-Journal, and CollegeBound Teen Magazine. To see some of her work, visit her website at www.thewriteatlas.com.



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